This week I came across a fabulous commentary on tzitzis by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum. He writes that the tzitzis surround us on all four sides, “a visual reminder of G-d’s presence everywhere. The blue techeles thread in the tzitzis is the color of the sea, which is a reflection of the color of the heavens, the seat of G-d’s glory.”
He notes that tzitzis is the first mitzvah to which a young boy is introduced, “because this mitzvah comes to remedy the vision of the eyes, which caused Adam’s downfall. ‘And the woman saw that the tree was good for food and it was desirable to the eyes. And she ate and she gave also to her husband with her’ (Genesis 3:6).
“Likewise, it was deceptive vision that led to the fall of the Children of Israel 40 days after the revelation at Sinai. ‘And the people saw that Moses’ was delayed in coming down from the mountain.’ (Exodus 32:1). According to the Sages, Satan deceived the people with a ‘desert mirage’ of Moses being carried up dead to heaven. They didn’t want an invisible leader. They wanted one they could see with their own eyes.”
Rabbi Greenbaum continues with this theme, noting that in “the sin of the Golden Calf, the heart went astray after the image before the eyes” and on their tour of the land, “the Spies saw exactly what they wanted to see. With the exception of Joshua and Kalev, they rejected the vision of the forefathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They did not want to accept the traditional report that their ears alone had heard: that G-d promised to take them to a land ‘flowing with milk and honey.’ They could not take it on trust. They wanted to check it out with their own eyes and decide for themselves. And they saw what they wanted to see: a real place, a land governed by natural laws, where people live and die.”
“The sin of the spies,” concludes Rabbi Greenbaum, “was a failure of faith. They allowed themselves to be misled by the external appearance of the natural world into a colossal failure of nerve, despite all the promises given by G-d that He would bring them to the land. The faith of Israel does not depend upon what the eyes see. On the contrary, we declare our faith wrapped in the tallis, clutching the tzitzis by our hearts, closing our eyes to the visual world around us and covering them with our hand: ‘Sh’ma Yisrael, HaShem is our G-d!’ Only Joshua and Calev closed their eyes to external appearances, knowing that with G-d’s help, it is possible to ‘bend’ nature.”